Storytellers Star At Edinburgh's Fringe

Forget comedy on the Fringe, some of the hottest tickets at this year's Edinburgh Festival are for one-man or one-woman storytelling shows, offering anything from Homer's Odyssey to tales of St. Francis of Assisi, to folk tales and songs. The sellout shows in Scotland's capital have tapped into a general resurgence of storytelling, with the Scottish Storytelling Centre just opening its doors this year in Edinburgh too.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Once upon a time, Scotland had a vibrant tradition of storytelling. But then wicked visual media and evil high-tech gadgets drove storytelling from the land. Until one day, the brave storytellers fought back, made their own castle and celebrated with a big festival in a town called Edinburgh. The end. Well, not quite.

Here's NPR's Rob Gifford.

ROB GIFFORD: It's a breezy Wednesday night in the center of Edinburgh and a bearded Australian, his long red hair all bushy beneath a feathered hat, is standing up to tell a story.

Unidentified Man: Well, our story starts in Kintail in the northwest of Scotland. And there's a gentleman, a fisherman, who has this boat and he really likes his boat. It's really, he's really proud of it.

GIFFORD: The man is one of a group gathered to share stories in the café of the recently established Scottish Storytelling Center. And amongst the bearded men in kilts and the kilted men in beards, there's an interesting smattering of Chinese, Japanese, Russians, French and a few stray Englishmen, all relishing a chance to tell their stories.

(Soundbite of cafe)

Mr. DONALD SMITH (Director, Scottish Storytelling Center): Storytelling is the oldest cultural art form in human history. Some people say it's the second oldest form of entertainment, as well.

GIFFORD: Director of the center, Donald Smith says the tales have always been told in homes and in pubs. But now they're entering the mainstream, as people search for something a little deeper than Facebook and Twitter.

Mr. SMITH: Storytelling absolutely requires us to sit down together, to spend time, to go out of time, once upon a time, which was no time, which is every time such and such happened. You're in the magic space. People hunger for that.

Ms. RACHEL ROSE REID (Storyteller; "And They Lived," Edinburgh Festival): The two girls slipped down the rough bark onto the soft earth and they were settling for the night when...

(Soundbite of scream)

GIFFORD: Rachel Rose Reid is very much not a bearded man in a kilt. A petite blond, 27-year-old Cambridge University philosophy graduate, two years ago she won the title of Young Storyteller of the Year. This year she's performed her show called "And They Lived" at the Edinburgh Festival in a tiny, hot attic theater. No props, no book, just her.

Ms. REID: And Demeter, goddess of fertility would wave up at her husband. And Zeus, all powerful, all seeing, all knowing god…

GIFFORD: The show combines stories from North American native traditions, from the South Pacific, a pinch of ancient Greek mythology and a dash of cabaret. Reid herself grew up in a London household immersed in storytelling -everything from Ovid to Studs Terkel.

Ms. REID: People like Studs Terkel put the epic in their everyday stories and drew it out. And I suppose I'm trying to put the everyday into the epic and draw us back into them. And to take them back out and just make them our stories again.

GIFFORD: While telling stories to a generation, who some accuse of having the attention span of a goldfish, might seem to present some problems, Reid says she and other storytellers relish the challenge of performing to young people. Certainly, audience member Kathleen McKarin(ph) was drinking it in this evening.

Ms. KATHLEEN MCKARIN: We've become so clever and so sophisticated with technology that we've almost taken entertainment as far as we can with computers and special effect. And there's nothing left to invent. We're going back to the original art form, the original mass entertainment form, which was storytelling.

GIFFORD: But it's clear that long-form storytelling still has a fight on its hands. In the world of instant gratification, it may be a while before it can be said that storytelling lived happily ever after.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, Edinburgh.

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